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From Tony Stark to Iron Man: Building tomorrow's IT chief

The new IT chief and you... the new IT chief is you

The proliferation of smartphones, tablets and apps means everyone everywhere has an opinion about IT. Some experts believe the rise of interest in technology is a good thing – but for IT professionals, this attention creates a problem.

While knowledge about devices has been democratised, the actual creation of tools and services remains a dark art. For most users, technology is magic – it just works and to understand why would be a bit like peeking behind the magician’s curtain.

IT managers right now have the misfortune of holding that curtain.

Technology leadership, normally a demanding role, has become something else in today’s world. Modern CIOs must not only maintain day-to-day IT operations but also manage the heightened expectations of a tech-savvy user base.

This process of harmonisation will not be to the taste of everyone working in IT; let’s be honest, many IT professionals feel more comfortable working with technology than with than people. However, the days when an IT manager could stay ensconced with the safe confines of the data centre are long gone.

Contemporary IT staff, in short, must spend more time talking and technology professionals who climb the all-important career ladder will be expected to “engage” with end users, customers and external providers. To do that, they must be able to communicate and collaborate.

The focus on engagement can come as a culture shock, even for the most experienced IT leaders. Perception remains a key challenge. Few users think about the development process when they’re collaborating with colleagues or pretending not to play Candy Crush on their smartphone in a meeting.

Many CIOs complain that end users simply see the governance-heavy processes of the technology department as an impediment to modern ways of working. That creates a perception that the IT team is a drag on what’s possible and wanted.

IT leaders, therefore, need to overcome negative perceptions. They must show how an internal IT team plays a crucial role, even in a world where systems and services can be sourced easily on-demand.

The smart IT leader will therefore go to great lengths to prove the value of them and their team. One CIO went as far as creating an internal newspaper to update the rest of the business on the great work of the IT team. Another employed an internal communications specialist to help connect technology and business workers.

Such CIOs recognised the importance of communication. They use an alternative strategy to help boost confidence in both their communication abilities and the perceived strengths of the technology department. However, not all senior IT managers have woken to the significance of this form of engagement – and these are the executives who are at risk of behind left behind.

There is good news. It’s the fact that most businesses, despite the ability to source technology on-demand through access to things like CRM delivered as a service, still recognise the importance of strong IT leadership. Research from the Tech Partnership and Experian suggests there will be more, not fewer, specialist technology roles with growth likely the greatest amongst IT directors - 37.5 per cent growth between 2015 and 2025. That’s contrary to the prevailing notion that the democratisation of technology will erode the need for specialist IT types.

The research indicates there will be approximately 1.71 million gross job opportunities for tech specialists – such as managers, developers and engineers – in the UK during the next decade.

Interestingly, the demand will only be part met by churn within the profession. Rather, new entrants will fill most opportunities (81 per cent), and that will include job changers – those coming in from non-technology positions.

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